By Shawn Cunningham
We've been hearing many valid arguments for and against a Dollar General locating in Chester. One of the arguments for a national discount chain is that there is a need for such a store in town; that a number of our residents can't or don't wish to drive to Springfield or New Hampshire to buy inexpensive goods that aren't offered for sale in Chester.Small towns across the country have the same problem. In the west, and soon in Saranac Lake, NY, a novel concept is providing quality merchandise at reasonable prices without bringing in an out-of-state retailers. A community owned store – a mercantile – just might be the answer for Chester.
WHAT IS A MERCANTILE?
A mercantile is a dry goods store owned by local investors – you and your neighbors. By selling merchandise that local retailers don't carry, the mercantile rounds out the mix while not competing with existing stores.
A town full of owners ensures that the store will respond to the needs of Chester and guarantees a customer base that is vested in the store's success. Suggestions and complaints would not fade into thin air over a long distance telephone line or get lost in a full email in-box.
A Chester Mercantile would carry inexpensive but quality necessities alongside premium items, for sale to both locals and tourists. The profits from premium items would give the store the flexibility to keep the prices of necessities low. A mercantile could also offer old-fashioned services like layaway.
Not only would the store be owned by the community, its full-time manager and its employees – several of whom would likely be full-time – would also be local. And these jobs would offer a better quality of life, with higher pay, more benefits and better working conditions than big box, discount stores.
WHERE SPENDING DOLLARS GO
National chains consolidate functions for many stores in a corporate headquarters and purchase supplies and services on a national level. Local stores tend to secure services such as bookkeeping and legal advice locally.
They tend to buy more of their supplies nearby and their profits stay in town rather than going to corporate headquarters in another state. Several studies have indicated that for every $100 spent in a chain store, about $15 stays in the local economy. By contrast, if that same $100 is spent in a locally owned business, almost $45 remains to fuel the local economy.
It would also save our residents time and the gasoline that it takes to get to Springfield and New Hampshire.
Ideally, the Chester Mercantile would use an existing structure to preserve the pleasant, small-town character that makes Chester an attractive place to live and visit. Because the Mercantile it is not run from a one-size-fits-all business plan, it can be flexible in growing and meeting the needs of Chester.
WHAT WOULD A MERCANTILE SELL?
Again, working with established stores to avoid direct duplication while offering Chester residents products that they can't find elsewhere, the Chester Mercantile could offer:
Shoes -- Socks -- Underwear -- Sewing notions -- Over-the-Counter Medicines -- First-Aid Supplies -- Cosmetics -- Hair Care Products -- Office Supplies -- Art Supplies -- School Supplies -- Party Supplies -- Toys -- Games -- Puzzles -- Seasonal Items such as Halloween costumes and Christmas decorations -- Towels and other Linens -- Candles -- Outerwear -- Sporting Goods – some Local Food Products -- Work Clothing -- Bath supplies -- Hats/Caps -- Cooking Tools -- Small Appliances -- Craft/Scrapbooking material …
A number of small communities have or are creating mercantiles.
Shawn Cunningham is a member of Smart Growth Chester, a citizens group that advocates for business and residential development and growth that reflects and enhances “the social, environmental, cultural, and economic values of the Town.” In coming weeks, he will examine other issues concerning growth and development in Chester.
The proposal to build a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General Store at the Zachary's Pizza House property has drawn a lot of comment on this blog. Most of those who have written have been against it. But to create a lively dialogue where all sides can understand one another, the views of others are needed as well. Out and about, it's encouraging to speak with those who are also for the store's construction. Their views are valid. Yet they -- and others -- need to be given a forum. So, whether you are for it, against it or have a view that counters all, I encourage you to gather your thoughts and tackle the issue head-on, in writing.
I reserve the right to edit for spelling, grammar and length. (Prior to publication, you will be informed by email if your comment contains a factual error.)
I only ask that you act in this forum as you would in our grandmother's living room. Keep it civil: No name-calling, no fighting, no yelling, no kicking, no flinging of food. And keep your feet off the furniture. In return, I will post your comments as soon as possible.
The Chester Development Review Board will hold a hearing on subdividing the Zachary's Pizza House property to accommodate a 9,100-square-foot Dollar General store to Monday Sept. 26. The meeting will take place at 7 p.m. at Town Hall, 556 Elm St.